Iranian Model Farnoush Hamidian Shares Her Heart-Wrenching Experience With Rape as a Child

Iranian Model Farnoush Hamidian Shares Her Heart-Wrenching Experience With Rape as a Child

As the unrest triggered by Mahsa Amini’s murder rages, model Farnoush Hamidian, who was raped as a child by Iranian intelligence officers, shares her story of brutality and vengeance for the first time
Farnoush Hamaidian Photo: Ankita Chandra
I grew up in the mountains, 30km from the Caspian sea, in a villa with my two older sisters, younger brothers, parents, and grandparents. I chased butterflies in the garden, climbed trees, read and wrote poetry. My father had a vast library, and we were taught that our bookshelf must be bigger than our closet. We were raised by my mother while my father worked to support the family; this is how it was in Iran in the 1980s. During the week, I went to an all-girls school. When I was in the second grade, during Islamic religion class, my teacher told me that if I was not wearing the hijab by age nine, on the day of judgement, I would be hung from my breasts and skewered through my vagina and out through my mouth. These were post-revolution times and men felt authorized – by the government – to behave a certain way. The idea was put in their head that they were better and that they deserved better than women. I wasn’t sad – I was scared. God was mean and He had every right to be. This was the law, and if I didn’t obey, I would be punished. I said yes to everything I was told.
I began to express myself through poetry; I wrote about the feeling of being mute. When I was 14, I was walking home from school when I was arrested by the morality police. Families already warned girls to ‘not show our hair’ and be careful because ‘they would catch us.’ A car slowed and I was called over: ‘My daughter, my daughter, come, we want to teach you a lesson,’ called out a woman. I got in the van. Two men sat in the front and one woman was in the back. She slapped me. ‘What did I do?’ I cried. Later, I was given papers and asked to write my crime and promise to never do it again. I was told to write that I haven’t been wearing my veil properly and that I was influenced by Western culture. I was wearing Max Mara sunglasses when I was arrested. For seven hours I sat in a holding room with other girls – there were girls everywhere. No one could speak to anyone, and everyone was crying. As a girl, you must have a sponsor, who is your father. When mine arrived, he was forced to teach me a lesson. He had to admit to my mistake and apologize. He also had to pay a fine and offer eggs from his poultry factory for one year.
Farnoush Hamaidian Photo: Ankita Chandra
Back at home, behind closed doors, we wore whatever we wanted. Our house – like those of many others – was full of friends and relatives. No one wore a veil if they didn’t want to. There was a stark difference between what the government wanted people to do and what was done. We listened to the radio and watched television. I grew up listening to ‘I’m a Barbie Girl’ and watching cartoons like Popeye. I would soon be 16 and learn about sexual education at school, in a biological sense. But nothing could prepare me for what would happen next. At 15, I was already very tall. I played basketball and attended yoga classes with my mother and sisters. I also loved music and was the cool girl with all the clandestine tapes, like Linkin Park, my favorite at the time. One morning, I was walking to a friend’s house to drop off a tape when a van stopped me. I was taken from the street by three men – intelligence services officers. There was nothing secretive about this organization and they could be recognized from their extremely conservative civilian clothes, long beards, and so much hatred in their eyes. They tied my wrists together with wires; I still bear those marks on my skin. In the van, they blindfolded me and insulted me with extreme words. Until that day, I didn’t even understand what those words meant. The van stopped and the men took me into a room. It was very cold. They stripped me of my clothes and took turns raping me. I couldn’t see them, but I could smell them, and I could feel the difference. My blindfold came off and that’s when they started beating me, even using a chair. I lost consciousness several times. When they finished, they dressed me, and put my hijab back on. It all happened in a very short time. Five hours. It only took five hours to destroy my mind and my body.
Farnoush Hamaidian Photo: Ankita Chandra
The men did not think they were doing anything wrong. I believe that. I was an object to teach a lesson to. When they finished, I was disposed in the street. I regained consciousness and found myself outside of the city. I somehow managed to walk to a petrol station where I said I was taken and asked to call my parents. When my parents came, I could not control my saliva, which was pouring out of my mouth. My hands had seized and were deformed. I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t crying, I was moaning. I was taken to doctors who confirmed the rape. At that time, no one had heard of such a thing happening. Not by the government. Not to a child. My father was not able to believe it and I know why. It was a year or two before the election for Ahmadinejad’s presidency and my father was against him. He was threatened multiple times, but he never believed something like this could happen to him. Imagine how difficult it is to accept that it’s your fault, indirectly, that your child is taken.
In the years that followed, I went to eight different psychologists, and was prescribed extreme medication, taking up to 11 different pills a day just to survive. I remember my mother caressing my hair, sleeping next to me at night, and following my panic attacks for over nine years. She experienced everything I did. I was the walking dead and she carried me along the way. I didn’t stay alive because I wanted to, but because my mother made me. I have never felt safe in my life other than in my mother’s arms. My mother showed me the strength of a woman. She is the god that I can see. She is the god that I can touch.
Farnoush Hamaidian Photo: Ankita Chandra
I was in Germany the first time I was asked to model. I said no. Modeling in Iran is illegal and, in my country, I wasn’t considered pretty. My nose is too big, my skin is too dark. But eventually, I found a voice. Modeling became my freedom and my revenge. In front of the camera, I have confidence. I can be who I want. I can show and talk through my body the way that I decide. I stand here for every person who has low or no esteem for women. I want them to see my ugly face and my ugly body. To every boy and girl who has ever been brutalized, I say to you, it is not your fault. I want to show whoever has been made to feel ugly and unloved that you can still be happy and become loved, feel safe, and feel innocent.
When I see what they are doing to the girls in Iran, so publicly, raping them in the jails and ripping their bodies, I feel like it is happening again to me. I am reliving my trauma. I am breaking down every day. I overeat, I shake, and at night, I clench my teeth so hard, they break. I cannot let it continue. I’m going to fight this until the day I die. We Iranians fighting for freedom know that no one other than the nation can help themselves. We want countries to stop accepting Iranian money and laundering it.
I have forgiven every person who has ever done anything to me. I will remember them better than who they are because I am better than who they are. My life is not meaningless. I want to be successful to prove to anybody who ever broke anybody – that it doesn’t matter how many times you broke me – you were not worthy enough. This is my revenge. To celebrate my body the way I want. To celebrate my existence. To live.”
Originally published in the December 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

Iranian Designer Melody Ehsani on Imbuing Her Streetwear Aesthetic and Feminist Attitude into Her NYC Life

Iranian Designer Melody Ehsani on Imbuing Her Streetwear Aesthetic and Feminist Attitude into Her NYC Life

Melody Ehsani in a tracksuit from Noah NY and Union LA x Nike Jumpman sneakers. Photo: Supplied

Twelve years have passed since Melody Ehsani launched her namesake streetwear brand and opened the doors to her Fairfax Avenue shop. “It’s kind of like being Luke Skywalker. I never set out to be a Jedi but did what I had to do. I looked up 10 years later, and here I am, a Jedi,” says the Iranian designer about running her business. Now with a location in Soho, New York City, Ehsani’s streetwear aesthetic – influenced by sports, hip-hop, and feminism – are found at her two stores, inviting customers to explore her sweatsuits, graphic tees, accessories, and jewelry lines.
Rings by Melody Ehsani, and a gifted Nefertiti ring. Photo: Supplied

With short-lived plans to become a lawyer in women advocacy, Ehsani – a graduate of the University of California – decided to break from cultural expectations and enroll at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena instead. “I finally broke with that path realizing that it wasn’t a true calling,” she shares. “It helped shape my beliefs and principles, which are reflected in my work: being able to leave behind parts of the culture that don’t serve me and bringing forward the beautiful aspects that are timeless and true.” While her law school days are far behind her, she continues to promote female empowerment via her platform. “I enjoy fusing conscious thought with product and I started my brand being inspired by women and wanting to pay it forward.”
Ehsani in her designs. Photo: Supplied

A lesson in adapting
“It’s the year of pivoting,” Ehsani says about adapting her establishment to the onset of the pandemic. “With 90% of our production being done in Los Angeles, we had to navigate around the availability of our supply chain,” she says. “Someone once told me to aim for accomplishment as opposed to success. Success carries an emotion, it implies you’re validated, whereas accomplishment means you set out to do something, and you do it. It involves a continual ascent. Not you, standing at the peak of a mountain and looking up.” Ehsani feels encouraged to push forward in times when others press pause. When asked what customers are looking for post-pandemic, she shares, “I know personally, I’ve simplified significantly. I’m more interested in supporting local businesses than ever before – and wearing clothes that are well-made and comfortable.”
Ehsani in her designs. Photo: Supplied

Female power
“Style is an expression of who you are,” says Ehsani, dressed in a sweatsuit that she made and a pair of Nike Air Jordan Ones from her ever-growing collection. “I’m not sure how many Jordans I own, but there are a lot,” she laughs. Some of her favorite pairs include the Aleali May and Union Los Angeles collaborations, which sit alongside designs she did for the brand. A nod to self-expression, she leaves her mark on an Air Jordan One, customized with a removable gold watch from her eponymous jewelry brand and inscribed with a Julie Burns- Walker circling the sole: “If you knew what you had was rare, you would never waste it.” Her second and most recent partnership with the sneaker company is the first-ever collaboration on the Women’s Jordan OG, first introduced in 1998. Imagined in black, purple, and red with reflective piping, the design is accented with a cherry detail – which is associated with goddesses of fertility, abundance, and protection – expressing her message on women empowerment.
A vintage Rolex Stella watch. Photo: Supplied

Slow and steady
While some rely on a morning workout, a java boost, or catching up on news before rushing out the door, Ehsani takes a holistic approach to start her day. “I sit up in bed, say a little prayer, and do some breathing and meditation work before brushing my teeth,” she says. “I also drink a lot of matcha and rely on it heavily in my morning routine to set the tone for my day.” Her self-care routine starts skin deep.” My complexion is the most direct reflection of how my overall health is doing,” says the designer. “I feel better when I’m giving myself what I need, and it shows in my skin,” she says, adding, “Just remember to drink water, breath, stretch, and meditate.”
Ehsani’s sneaker collaboration with Nike in front of art by Aya Tiff Brown. Photo: Supplied

For the love of food
“Raffi’s Place is my favorite Persian restaurant in Los Angeles,” Ehsani says as she excitedly talks about the beef kabab barq at the Glendale courtyard locale lined with an umbrella of trees and twinkling lights. Just a stone’s throw away from her shop, Ehsani also frequently reserves a table at Jon and Vinny’s for its apple salad and spicy fusilli. Meanwile, Erewhon is her shopping ground. “It’s my favorite market. Its hot foods bar has all the healthy food I like and its smoothies are worth splurging on.”
Ehsani in her designs. Photo: Supplied

Read Next: Iranian Diva Googoosh on Auctioning Her Iconic Couture Kaftans for a Cause
Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Iranian Diva Googoosh on Auctioning Her Iconic Couture Kaftans for a Cause

Iranian Diva Googoosh on Auctioning Her Iconic Couture Kaftans for a Cause

Googoosh wearing Rahmanian for her comeback tour in 2000. Photo: Supplied

For 21 years, Googoosh, the stage name of Iranian singer Faegheh Ahtashin, was silenced. An iconic pop star and actor who pinnacled to fame in the 1970s in Iran, and inspired women in the Middle Eastern nation with her short haircut and sophisticated fashion sense, Googoosh’s career ended nearly overnight with the Iranian Revolution in 1979. As public performances by women were banned by the conservative government, Googoosh receded into the shadows, before making a magnetic comeback in 2000 and embarking on a world tour that encompassed cities like Dubai, Toronto, and Los Angeles.
Today, a powder blue gown Googoosh wore while performing in front of 12,000 people in Toronto during her comeback tour is displayed for auction by Bonhams. The gown is one of several fashion items from the singer’s closet on sale to the highest bidder, accompanied by dresses, blazers, hats, skirts and blouses. The clothing in the auction includes both Googoosh’s personal attire and the iconic ensembles she has sported in concerts and music videos.

“In the absence of concerts due to coronavirus, I decided that these clothes should be put to good use as I don’t use them anymore,” Googoosh told Vogue Arabia. “There were a number of gowns that I had worn back from the years 2000 to 2019, which was when my last concert happened, and I hadn’t worn them again. I decided that these gowns should be added to this auction line.”
While the sales for the auction are digital on account of the pandemic, the outreach and operations for the event are happening in Los Angeles, home to a generational community of Iranian-Americans, which settled in the area after fleeing dictatorship and unrest in their country in the 1970s and 80s. Catherine Williams, the director of Fine Books and Manuscripts and Entertainment Memorabilia at Bonhams’ Los Angeles office, said that the auction is targeted towards music enthusiasts passionate about Googoosh, and the Persian community in Southern California in general.

The articles of clothing in the auction are drawn primarily from Googoosh’s wardrobe after she returned to the stage in 2000. The singer shares that the clothes which defined the first part of her career, and established her early reputation as a trendsetting force, were lost after she left Iran to tour in Canada, anticipating a return that never happened.
“[The clothes in the auction] are very special to Googoosh because they represent the time she was back and able to sing again, how she got her voice back, and when she became Googoosh again,” Neda Saeedi, Googoosh’s personal assistant, told Vogue Arabia. “And through her fashion, she tried to show another side [of herself] if there had been no revolution from 2000 till present.”
The range of designs in the collection is eclectic, capturing Googoosh’s regal fashion style and the larger-than-life diva she has embodied onstage. Outfits include embroidered velvet blue pant-and-shirt coordinates by Tory Burch, a gray lace gown by Iranian designer Rahmanian, a royal blue Marchesa dress clasped with a golden rhinestone belt, and an assortment of flowing kaftans. However, Googoosh isn’t invested in brand names, but instead prioritizes comfort, elegance, beauty, and modesty in curating her wardrobe, and she has purchased most of the clothing herself on a personal budget when venturing out on shopping sprees.
“If something catches my eye, I suddenly go for it,” Googoosh said. “I don’t look at designers’ labels when I’m purchasing an outfit. There have been times when I coincidentally noticed that I’m wearing the same designer, maybe because I like their design, but I don’t go for Escada and pick out their gowns because it’s Escada. For me, wearing something that I feel comfortable in is the key aspect.”
Even so, the clothing in the auction deftly blends an Eastern silhouette with a more Western and modern style of fashion. Iranian designers like Rahmanian and Bahareh Memarian, and Indian designer Naeem Khan recur throughout the collection, and kaftans the singer has donned in music videos and concerts are also up for auction.
Googoosh wearing Mario Dice. Photo: Supplied

“For kaftans, they go back from before the revolution, when I used to travel to Tunis and other Arabic[-speaking] countries,” Googoosh explained. “Kaftans enable me to perform on stage freely without any kind of tangles. I feel I can let go and perform [in them] without thinking about how I look. Because I know I look good in them.”
A selection of the proceeds from the auction will go to the Iranian-American Women’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the education of Iranian women in the US, particularly immigrants looking for better opportunities abroad. “Most of these students come from Iran to study. And because it’s so hard for their parents to support them, they have to go back to Iran and not pursue the career that they have chosen,” Googoosh said.
Googoosh possesses experience as a working woman herself, who struggled to forge a career as a singer coming from an impoverished background and then endeavored to sing again under the watchful eye of a conservative government. And even as Googoosh’s clothing from pre-revolutionary Iran remains physically inaccessible, the more recent fashion in the auction line provides a snapshot of femininity and elegance, still inspiring Middle Eastern women to look beautiful regardless of cultural or political norms restricting their dress codes.
“Googoosh is saying, you are women, you are beautiful, and you should be dressing amazingly,” Neda Saeedi said. “If you want to be glamorous, then be glamorous. And if you can’t be glamorous outside of your home, then you can do that in your small gatherings, with your family and friends, and however else you are allowed to be.”
Read Next: The Best Bridal Looks from Paris’s Haute Couture Week SS21

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